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AIFF 2021: Preview Night will announce 'double feature' events

The 20th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival will announce its full film and event lineup in a virtual Preview Night presented live for members at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, and available to the general public Friday, March 25, on AIFF’s website, ashlandfilm.org.

The members-only event will include the opportunity to interact with festival programmers and get exclusive, behind-the-scenes background information on the films. This year’s festival will run as a “double feature”— with a virtual film fest April 15-29 and live and outdoor events scheduled June 24-28 in Ashland and Medford.

In advance of the full program release, the festival has provided 10 “sneak peek” titles (see below), supplementing its earlier announcement of this year’s special awardees — actor and director David Oyelowo won the Rogue Award for “The Water Man”; producer Christine Vachon’s “Poison” won the Pride Award; and filmmaker Bruno Santamaria was honored with the James Blue Award for “Things We Dare Not Do.”

The festival’s full lineup includes more than 100 films, along with TalkBack panels, a virtual Opening Night Bash, member-and-maker mixers, plus live music events.

AIFF’s schedule is presented as thematic “tracks” to help guide viewers through the festival’s programming. Their perennial “Arts” and “Activism” tracks reflect the importance of these subjects to independent filmmakers, according to a festival press release. A new “Screening Cuba” track runs parallel to the visual and media art exhibition “Collecting Cuba,” co-sponsored by Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Museum of Art, and the “Rising From the Ashes” track responds to the aftermath of the devastating local Almeda fire of 2020.

“We’ve seen in previous years that providing viewers with paths to follow through our rich program helps them make fascinating connections across diverse genres and styles,” AIFF Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz stated in the release. “For example, this year’s ‘Activism’ track includes three documentaries exploring the rising energy of youth activism — ‘Homeroom,’ ‘Youth v. Gov,’ and the U.S. premiere of ‘American Gadfly.’ This elegantly parallels two films in the ‘Arts’ track — ‘Me to Play’ and ‘So Late So Soon’ — which address the subject of older artists confronting aging.”

Tickets to the film festival go on sale to members Wednesday, March 31, and to the public on Thursday, April 8. Film prices are generally $10, discounted for members, seniors and those experiencing financial hardship, with several programs available for free.

AIFF memberships start at $35 and include early access, exclusive events and screenings, free and discounted tickets and other benefits, all while supporting a local nonprofit arts organization.

For further details or to purchase memberships and tickets, see ashlandfilm.org or call 541-488-3823.

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10 films in the 2021 AIFF lineup

All films will be accompanied by Q&A’s with the directors and other participants.

‘Activism’ track

“American Gadfly”: After decades of quiet living, 89 year-old former senator and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Gravel comes out of retirement when a group of teenagers convinces him to run for president. Through Sen. Gravel’s official Twitter account, the Gravel teens embark on an unlikely adventure to qualify him for the Democratic debates to advance an anti-war, anti-corruption and direct-democracy agenda in the 2020 presidential race. Directed by Skye Wallin. This is a world premiere.

“Homeroom”: Through intimately filmed cinema vérité, “Homeroom” follows the class of 2020 at Oakland High School in a year marked by seismic change, exploring the emotional world of students coming of age against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world. Directed by Peter Nicks.

“Youth v Gov”: This film is the story of America’s youngest citizens taking on the world’s most powerful government. Twenty-one courageous youth lead a groundbreaking lawsuit, originating in Eugene, against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create our climate crisis. Directed by Peter Nicks.

‘Arts’ track

“Me to Play”: As their bodies give way to Parkinson’s disease, two New York actors put their hearts into one final Off-Broadway production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” the play that posits, “there’s nothing funnier than unhappiness.” Directed by Jim Bernfield.

“So Late So Soon”: A half-century into their marriage, two Chicago artists look back at their life together as they contend with the deterioration of their bodies and beloved home. Directed by Daniel Hymanson.

‘Rising From The Ashes’ track

“Anchor Point”: This documentary film is about women changing the culture of firefighting on our nation’s public lands. It’s a story told through the eyes of wildland firefighters Kelly Martin and Lacey England, deeply connected to the lands they protect and determined to build an equitable workplace, free from discrimination and assault. Directed by Holly Tuckett.

‘Screening Cuba’ track

“Los Hermanos/The Brothers”: Virtuoso Afro-Cuban-born brothers — violinist Ilmar and pianist Aldo — live on opposite sides of a geopolitical chasm a half-century wide. Tracking their parallel lives in New York and Havana, their poignant reunion, and their momentous first performances together, the film offers a nuanced, often startling view of estranged nations through the lens of music and family. Directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider.

Narrative Features

“A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff”: The film tells the story of Madoff through the eyes of musician/poet Alicia Jo Rabins, who watches the financial crash from her studio in an abandoned office building on Wall Street. Fueled by her growing obsession, real-life interviews transform into music videos, ancient spiritual texts become fevered fantasies of synchronized swimming, and a vivid, vulnerable work of art is born from the unique perspective of an artist watching the global financial collapse up close. Directed by Alicia J. Rose.

“Beans”: Twelve-year-old Beans is on the edge — torn between innocent childhood and delinquent adolescence, forced to grow up fast to become the tough Mohawk warrior she needs to be during the Indigenous uprising known as The Oka Crisis, which tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 tense days in the summer of 1990. Directed by Tracey Deer.

Shorts Section

“Cinespace”: A short film competition, produced by NASA and the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and judged by filmmaker Richard Linklater, highlights narrative and documentary short films that imaginatively remix NASA archival footage. This is the sixth annual edition, which includes first place winner “Space: A Skate Odyssey” by Canadian filmmaker Toby Morris.

A scene form "Beans" in the Narrative Features track at this year's Ashland Independent Film Festival. In “Beans,” 12-year-old Beans is on the edge — torn between innocent childhood and delinquent adolescence, forced to grow up fast to become the tough Mohawk warrior she needs to be during the Indigenous uprising known as The Oka Crisis, which tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 tense days in the summer of 1990. Directed by Tracey Deer. Courtesy image.